In June 2020, the OECD published a study, “Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions“, which recognizes the Vorarlberg Citizens’ Council model as #6 on their “short list” of 12.
Here is a lovely interview by Ieva Cesnulaityte, writing for Participo, the OECD’s online digest on “innovative citizen participation research and practice”. She interviews Michael Lederer on Citizen’s Councils in Vorarlberg: Building a culture of participation.
We have also been celebrating the English-language version of the buergerrat.net website! It’s wonderful to see that the many years of experience and learning that the people in Vorarlberg have garnered with this model (including public administrators, government officials, and public engagement professionals) are now being shared more widely with the English-speaking world.
Bürgerräte have been taking place in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland since 2006; the word “Bürgerrate” can be translated as “Citizen’s Councils” or “Civic Councils”. In the materials below, you will find all of these different terms being used to describe the same phenomenon.
The basic format was inspired by Jim Rough’s “Wisdom Council” model: a small microcosm of the larger system, chosen by lot (sortition), comes together for a few days to explore a complex and/or challenging societal situation in a creative manner. They are hosted using Dynamic Facilitation, a process that helps people become curious about differences. After arriving at a set of convergences, they share their findings at a public gathering, a Citizen’s Café, where the larger group engages in conversation in a format inspired by World Café.
Most of the resources below document the use of Bürgerräte in the area of participatory democracy / deliberative democracy, for hosting participatory public policy making processes. One exception below is a book chapter describing the use of this Council format within business organizations, as an effective approach to culture change.
Video and report on the Civic Council on Refugees:
- 5-minute video on the 2015 award-winning Civic Council on the Refugee Crisis, hosted by the State of Vorarlberg through their Office of Future-Related Issues;
- 22-page report documenting this award-winning participatory process (English-language translation of the original report.)
Video on the Civic Councils being used in Germany:
- as part of the Integrated Environmental Program 2030, sponsored by Germany’s Ministry of the Environment
Articles from journals, news media, and blogs
on vorarlberg Bürgerrate (Civic councils / Citizen’s Councils / Wisdom Councils):
Citizens’ Councils: What are they and why are they so popular in Austria? (2020). By Rosa Zubizarreta, Andy Paice, and Martha Cuffy. Web-published on newDemocracy foundation, R + D notes page.
Facilitating Inclusion: Austrian Wisdom Councils as Democratic Innovation between Consensus and Diversity. By Hans Asenbaum, published in the Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol 12, Issue 2, October 13, 2016
Participatory Public Policy Microcosms. By Rosa Zubizarreta, published in Spanda Journal, 2015, Vol 1 Issue 2.
Big Strides in Participation for a Tiny Austrian State. By Andy Paice, from his Random Musings blog, December 21, 2013.
Hope Blossoms Amidst the Nazi Ruins. By Silke Ruprechtsberger, published in Fokus, on May 8, 2013. English translation by Craig Eldon Reishus: Describes the Wisdom Council at Mauthousen, site of a former concentration camp.
Developing Self Efficacy. By Wolfgang Smejkal, published in Biorama, an online magazine on sustainable living, on April 4, 2013. Originally titled, “Selbst Wirksam Werden”.
Wisdom Councils in the Public Sector by Manfred Hellrigl and Michael Lederer. From Rosa Zubizarreta and Matthias zur Bonsen’s book, Dynamic Facilitation: Die erfolgreiche Moderations methode für schwierige und verfahrene Situationen. (2014). Weinheim and Basel: Beltz Verlag.
Dynamic Facilitation — A Method for Culture Change. by Rita Trattnigg and Thomas Haderlapp. From Rosa Zubizarreta and Matthias zur Bonsen’s book, Dynamic Facilitation: Die erfolgreiche Moderations methode für schwierige und verfahrene Situationen. (2014). Weinheim and Basel: Beltz Verlag.
Wisdom Councils by Matthias zur Bonsen. A chapter on Wisdom Councils as used in business organizations. From Rosa Zubizarreta and Matthias zur Bonsen’s book, Dynamic Facilitation: Die erfolgreiche Moderations methode für schwierige und verfahrene Situationen. (2014). Weinheim and Basel: Beltz Verlag.
Academic work and evaluations currently available in english:
Public participation, sustainability, and environmental awareness: Case study of the effect of wisdom councils in the region Bregenzwald. (2017). Katharina Toth’s master’s thesis for the University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.
Wisdom Councils in Austria: Joint Research Project of the Ministry of Life and the Office for Future-Related Questions. (2012). Final Report on the Accompanying Evaluation.” Conducted by Martin Strele, Martin Lüdeman, and Patrizia Nanz, for Kairos and the European Institute for Public Participation. While much learning has taken place between then and now, this is still a very useful study.
On the “Vorarlberg Bürgerrat” model (the name in German for the Citizens’ Councils);
On Dynamic Facilitation (the emergence-based collaborative sense-making model that allows the Citizens’ Councils to be so cost-effective);
A case study of the Citizens’ Council on Asylum and Refugee Policies sponsored by the State of Vorarlberg;
On the Region of Consciousness, a broader participatory process held in connection with the former Mauthausen concentration camp, which included Bürgerräte as part of the larger process.
On the Wisdom Council Process, the original inspiration for the Citizens’ Councils / Civic Councils in Europe
Please help us keep this page comprehensive and up-to-date! Your suggestions are most welcome.